Bent But Not Broken - April Ross

Photo of April
Photo of April

On April 25, 2014, April Ross and a friend were sitting in a car in a residential neighborhood in Atlanta, Georgia when April saw movement outside the passenger side window. Although she couldn’t see a face, April was surprised to recognize the torso of her estranged husband. “I remember thinking that he wouldn’t shoot me,” April said. But he did shoot her. Three times. April was struck in the face, arm and back, causing a spinal injury that left her paralyzed from the chest down. After almost three years of marriage, April, a Fulton County assistant district attorney, had filed for divorce from Tranard McConnell. The divorce papers were served on April 24. The shooting occurred the next day. “I never thought something like this would ever happen,” April said. Later the same day McConnell took his own life.

After multiple surgeries and months of intense therapy, April returned to work at the District Attorney’s office in November of 2015. Now with the help of health care providers and her family, she is looking toward a fulfilling future. We talked with April by telephone while she was in California to tape a segment for a nationally syndicated television program that presents real-life stories relating to a variety of health issues. Before we began our interview, we asked April how she came to have the opportunity to tell her story on national television.

Ross: It all happened very quickly and I was very surprised! A friend of mine recently set up a Go Fund Me account (https://www.gofundme.com/angelsforapril) hoping to help raise funds to pay for my daily personal care assistance that is necessary but isn’t covered by insurance. I am also trying to get a standing frame which is a piece of specialized equipment with important long term health benefits. Within a few days after the account went live, an associate producer of the television show who had read my story on the Go Fund Me web site contacted me through Facebook. Very soon they offered to fly me, my mother and my sister to Los Angeles to tape a segment for the show."

NRRTS: April, what have you found to be most helpful during your many months of therapy?

Ross: I believe your attitude is very helpful – how you learn to adapt to your living situation. I think you should always be in a state of curiosity about living with a disability. It is always helpful when I learn how others are able to do what I want to do. I am encouraged by what others have accomplished. For example, I thought only those with a low level injury from the waist down could drive and be involved in sports and, because my paralysis is from my chest down I didn’t think I could do those activities. I’ve learned from others that even with a high level injury I can hand cycle, play golf and be involved in many other sports. I’m also now driving a modified vehicle I must take one thing at a time. I’ve got a lot of things on my checklist.
I feel the same about therapy. I’m always looking for something to try that might help me even if it is experimental.

NRRTS: Many of your friends, family members and others who have known you a long time refer to your inner strength. They believe this is something you’ve always had and that has made a difference in your recovering from the shooting incident. To what do you attribute this strength?

Ross: I actually believe this comes from others who surround me with positive energy. The support of friends, family and even people I thought had forgotten about me, kept me from going to a dark place. Don’t get me wrong. Everyday isn’t sunshine. Sometimes I slip back into the past asking why this happened, but day-to-day I have a very loving family and friends who stand by me. These people help me remember who I am and make me realize that I’m still me regardless of what has happened.

NRRTS: Besides the obvious, how has your life changed?

Ross: Actually I can still do almost everything I did in my previous life but things require a lot more time to get done. I have to be more prepared. Life is more of an adventure now. When I go out of town something crazy usually happens. I attended an out-of-town conference while I still had a cast on my arm following surgery and my cast just came off in the middle of the night. This required an unexpected trip to the emergency room. I have to be ready for anything and often have to be a lot more creative to solve problems. There are times when I think that I’m not a whole person, that I’m broken. I remind myself not to live in the past.

NRRTS: You returned to work approximately a year-and-a-half after you were injured. Give us an idea of your schedule and how you balance work, therapy and other things you must do to take care of yourself.

Ross: I’ve been blessed with a boss who understands my needs. When I first returned to work I began with two half-days a week and gradually increased it based on my capabilities. This allowed me to have a therapy schedule and still work. Now almost three years later I work four half-days a week. I’m not in therapy right now but can get back when I need it. Fridays I rest – thank goodness! I’m not back in the courtroom yet, but I’ll get there. Now I help with the victims in domestic violence cases from a lawyer’s standpoint. We have victim advocates but I can provide additional victim support and help someone who is reluctant to talk to us. I am also working with our office to push for stiffer penalties for repeat offenders of domestic violence crimes. Research has found that domestic violence crimes are very often committed by repeat offenders. More severe penalties will help prevent this.

NRRTS: You seem very intent on moving forward and looking to your future rather than dwelling in the past. Where do you see yourself in the next few years?

Ross: Of course it was a lot easier to move forward before my injury. I hope to make it back into the courtroom and try cases again. Although I live alone now I still want to be more independent. I am in a perpetual state of curiosity and want to learn more about new technology and new science that will help me. I’ll continue with therapy and participate in whatever I can to be active. I hope to be a published author and still do speaking engagements. I enjoy that. Mostly I just want to be happy, comfortable and close to my family. I want a simple life.

NRRTS: Share your ideas for the books you want to write.

Ross: I am in the process of writing a book about my life as a young woman in a relationship that had its ups and downs. This is my way of sharing my experience of putting someone on a pedestal and minimizing the signs of an abusive relationship. I learned that sometimes you need to step back and recognize a relationship for what it is. You have to realize when it is time to leave.The signs were there for me to walk away and I almost did, but there was something that convinced me I just needed to work harder, believe more. That I just needed to compromise more and what I was really compromising was me.
Writing a book is a slow process but I have several chapters drafted. Once I’ve finished writing, I’ll need to get the book edited and then work on getting it published. My working title for this book is “All that Glitters.” As we’ve all heard, all that glitters is not gold. This book is about the past. I am planning a second book, “Bent But Not Broken,” about the present and the future.

I want my experience to be an example that life is a blessing and every breath you breathe, every step you take, every day you can get up and brush your own teeth or comb your own hair, it is a blessing and we should not take it for granted.

Contact: April may be reached at april.whitney@gmail.com

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